Brunei LNG to improve forest fire prevention project

National 2 minutes, 30 seconds

BELAIT

BRUNEI LNG is looking to improve its pilot project to prevent forest fires at the Lumut pipeline road by upgrading canal blocks which have successfully prevented peat swamp forests from being drained of water.

The 29 canal blocks – composing of compacted peat soil purchased from Anduki – were first installed in 2014 at 200-metre intervals along a 14 kilometre stretch of road where Brunei LNG's water pipelines run through.

However a small portion of some of the blocks have since been eroded, limiting their ability to retain water, said Brunei LNG’s head of environmental affairs, Marie-Christine Johannes.

“We have to add more peat (soil) where the blocks have eroded, then have it compacted. We are also looking into raising the level of some blocks, because some could made higher so that water in the canal does not flow over the block when rainfall levels are higher,” said Johannes during a site visit to the pipeline road earlier this week.

The peat blocks were initially constructed at a height less than 30 centimetres of the pipeline road as a general guideline, but Johannes said more research is being done to find an optimal height for the blocks, with the height of peat land next to the blocks needing to be factored in more accurately.

The canal itself was constructed alongside the pipeline road decades ago to prevent flooding in the area, but it was recently discovered to have unintentionally drained the groundwater levels of peat forests in the surrounding area.

The drainage lead to a substantial amount of dry peat above and below the ground, which is highly susceptible to catching fire. Contrary to popular belief, not all peat is prone to fires, said Johannes. In their natural state peat forests are swampy, composing of 90 per cent water – making them “fairly resistant” to fires.

Johannes said that the degradation of peat land by annually recurring forest fires was severe enough to have caused the land in the surrounding area to sink.

“The water pipelines are key for Brunei LNG operations, so protecting the environment they are in is important,” she said.

Johannes added that raising the water level and preventing further fires will allow for the peat land to slowly, but gradually recover, with reforesting certain nearby areas in the future being looked into.

“We are currently supporting a Universiti Brunei Darussalam pilot study opposite the pipeline road to figure what trees are best suited to reforest Brunei peat lands damaged by fires. This is first step (to future reforestation),” she said.

An associate expert from global environmental non-governmental organisation Wetlands International, who are working closely with Brunei LNG on the project, said that peat blocks were a relatively affordable, environmentally friendly solution.

“It’s a peat block on peat land, so there's no risk of any environmental damage and it’s certainly cheaper. (Implementing it) does cost some money, but if you compare this to making fire fighters work overtime or having to enlist water bombing, it’s certainly less costly.”

The Brunei Times